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May 29, 2024

US and allies clash with Houthis as tensions boil over

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Jan 31, 2024

Missile attacks target international shipping

Tensions between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and the US and its allies have escalated dramatically in recent days, with a series of audacious attacks on international shipping transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

On January 31st, Houthi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree claimed the rebel group had targeted the USS Gravely, a US Navy destroyer, with two missiles in the Red Sea. The US military strongly denied this, but the incendiary claim nonetheless ratcheted up an already febrile atmosphere.

It came just days after the Houthis fired missiles at a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship, also in the Red Sea. A US Navy destroyer, the USS Nitze, intercepted the missiles with its cutting-edge Aegis defense system.

Earlier, on January 27th, the Houthis had struck a Greek-managed oil tanker off the Yemeni port of Hodeidah with an anti-ship cruise missile. The US military promptly retaliated, carrying out an airstrike to destroy the missile launcher.

In the days prior, the rebels had fired missiles at a pair of cargo vessels chartered by the US military as they passed through the Red Sea towards Saudi Arabia. The Commercial Expeditionary Base logistics ships apparently escaped damage.

Strategic waterways under threat

The attacks have sent shockwaves through the global shipping industry and energy markets, while heightening fears that the strategic trade artery of the Red Sea could be disrupted.

Some 5% of world oil production passes through the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait at the sea’s southern end each day, along with billions of dollars worth of cargo heading to and from Europe.

“Houthis are throttling international trade,” warned UK-based defense analyst Francis Tusa. “But UK and US attacks may only make matters worse.”

The rebel missile attacks have already had a chilling effect, with some shipowners opting to avoid the area entirely.

Red Sea tanker traffic falls after Houthi missile strike on Marlin Luanda,” reported industry journal TradeWinds.

Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, has diverted vessels away from Yemen’s coastline. Other firms are certain to follow suit if the security situation continues to deteriorate.

Calls for restraint

While the Houthis have escalated attacks alarmingly in recent days, some analysts caution that further Western military action could pour fuel on the fire.

China, which relies heavily on energy imports through the Red Sea chokepoint, has reportedly urged Iran to pressure the Houthis to halt their attacks.

Beijing is concerned that a naval clash or closure of the strait would have catastrophic impacts on the global economy. But Iran likely has limited ability to restrain its Yemeni proxy force, which has became increasing autonomous.

In Washington, President Biden is facing calls for a tough response from hawkish Republicans emboldened by their new Congressional majority. But the administration remains intent on reviving the tattered 2015 Iran nuclear deal, provided Tehran returns to full compliance.

This tense diplomatic balancing act has left Biden reluctant to take bold military action, yet needing to signal resolve in the face of Houthi aggression.

What’s next?

With missiles flying across one of the world’s busiest trade seaways, fears are rising of an accidental clash or rapid escalation spiral. The US and allied navies seem determined to stay the course, maintaining a robust military footprint along Yemen’s coast.

Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthis, meanwhile, are unlikely to back away from attacks they see as legitimate retaliation against foreign powers backing the Saudi-led coalition fighting them.

Tehran, despite Western suspicions, maintains it has little control over the rebels. But some Iranian officials may welcome the pressure the Houthis are applying on Washington and its regional allies.

  • So further attacks seem inevitable, even as risks grow that a Houthi missile could someday penetrate a warship’s defenses, with potentially disastrous consequences.

For now, ordinary Yemenis continue to bear the brunt of this intensifying regional shadow war playing out in their territorial waters. With UN-led peace efforts stalled, the country’s intractable conflict lurches on into its second decade.

Timeline of recent Red Sea clashes

Date Incident
Jan 31 Houthis claim to have targeted US destroyer USS Gravely with missiles
Jan 29 Rebels fire missiles at Marshall Islands container ship, intercepted by USS Nitze
Jan 27 Houthis strike Greek tanker off Yemen; US carries out retaliatory strike
Jan 24 Missiles fired at two US military contracted cargo vessels
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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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